WASHINGTON | A gunman coolly drew a weapon from his pocket and opened fire at a security checkpoint into the Pentagon on Thursday in a point-blank attack that wounded two police officers before the suspect was fatally shot.
The two officers suffered grazing wounds and were being treated in a hospital, said Richard Keevill, chief of Pentagon police. The shooter, identified as John Patrick Bedell, 36, of Hollister, Calif., died hours after being admitted to a hospital in critical condition, authorities said. They had no motive for the shooting.
There were signs, however, that Bedell may have harbored resentment for the military and had doubts about the facts behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In an Internet posting, a user by the name JPatrickBedell wrote that he was “determined to see that justice is served” in the death of Marine Col. James Sabow, who was found dead in the back yard of his California home in 1991. The death was ruled a suicide but the case has long been the source of theories of a coverup.
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The user named JPatrickBedell wrote the Sabow case was “a step toward establishing the truth of events such as the September 11 demolitions.”
That same posting railed against the government’s enforcement of marijuana laws and included links to the author’s 2006 court case in Orange County, Calif., for cultivating marijuana and resisting a police officer. Court records available online show the date of birth on the case mentioned by the user JPatrickBedell matches that of the John Patrick Bedell suspected in the shooting.
The shooter walked up to the checkpoint at the Pentagon’s subway entrance in an apparent attempt to get inside the massively fortified Defense Department headquarters. “He just reached in his pocket, pulled out a gun and started shooting” no more than five feet away, Keevill said. “He walked up very cool. He had no real emotion on his face.” The Pentagon officers returned fire with semiautomatic weapons.
Bedell’s death was confirmed early Friday by Beverly Fields, chief of staff of the D.C. medical examiner’s office; and Leigh Fields, medical legal investigator for the office. Both said Bedell’s body had arrived at the medical examiner’s office.
The assault at the very threshold of the Pentagon — the U.S. capital’s ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001 — came four months after a deadly attack on the Army’s Fort Hood, Texas, post allegedly by a U.S. Army psychiatrist with radical Islamic leanings. In the immediate aftermath Thursday, investigators did not think terrorism was involved but were not ruling that out and did not discuss possible motives.
President Barack Obama was closely following the case with updates from the FBI through his homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.
Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as Bedell, 36. They also said they were speaking with a second man, who might have accompanied the shooter, and were running his name through databases.
The subway station is immediately adjacent to the Pentagon building, a five-sided northern Virginia colossus across the Potomac River from Washington. Since a redesign following the 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, riders can no longer disembark directly into the building. Riders take a long escalator ride to the surface from the underground station, then pass through a security check outside the doors of the building, where further security awaits.
After the attack, all Pentagon entrances were secured, then all were reopened except one from the subway, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. He said the subway entrance was likely to remain closed overnight at least.
Keevill said the gunman gave no clue to the officers at the checkpoint about what he was going to do. “There was no distress,” he said. “When he reached into his pocket, they assumed he was going to get a pass and he came up with a gun.”
“He wasn’t pretending to be anyone. He was wearing a coat and walked up and just started shooting.” Keevill added: “We have layers of security and it worked. He never got inside the building to hurt anyone.”
Law enforcement sources said Bedell was from California. California Voter Registration records show that Bedell was born on May 20, 1973, and lived in Hollister at his parents’ home.
Ronald Domingues, 74, lives next door to Bedell’s parents in a gated golf course community in Hollister, but said he does not know the family, which includes two other sons, well. He said Bedell lived with his parents on and off, but he had not seen him recently. Bedell occasionally helped his parents with yard work and struck him “like a normal young man.”
“He just seemed like a normal guy to me,” Domingues said. “I wouldn’t suspect he would be involved in anything like this.”
Domingues described the neighborhood as middle-class. He said the Bedells live in a one story southwestern-style stucco house. The home was dark on Thursday night.
A Pentagon official working late in the building said people inside first heard of the shooting on television. They were later told the building was locked down and to stay in place.
Then at around 7:30 p.m., they heard an announcement on the public address system that they could leave through Corridor 3 — one widely used to get access to one of the parking lots.
“We really don’t know anything, just that we can leave now through that corridor,” one official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the incident.